Phillies’ manager Joe Girardi announced on Monday that Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Zach Eflin would start the Phillies’ first three games of the 2021 season, barring setbacks. While this news may not come as a surprise to many, it is nonetheless a sign that the Phillies’ manager has faith in the three starting pitchers to get things done on a daily basis for the Fightin’ Phils.
Today, we take a closer look at the Phillies’ top three starters and look to see if there is any room for concern ahead of the 2021 season.
The Phillies’ Three Aces
- One missed start in the past three seasons.
- Received NL Cy Young Votes in both 2018 and 2020
- Combined 3.13 ERA and 10.2 SO/9 in the past three seasons
Why don’t Phillies fans realize he is that good yet?
The only argument that holds any weight is the idea that Nola doesn’t pitch well in September…except the argument is blown out of proportion.
September isn’t Nola’s worst-performing month. It’s June. So much for the “warm-weather pitcher” argument.
The truth is, Nola’s four-pitch combination will be enough to keep batters on their toes constantly. At his best, Nola is among the top pitchers in the game on the mound. At his worst, he is still leagues better than Vince Velasquez (and in case you didn’t read the table, he’s at his best more often than not).
Wheels had a great year on the mound last year for the Phillies. He pitched for a 2.92 ERA, gave up only three home runs, and kept over half of all batted balls on the ground during the “home run or bust” era.
It was a career-best year for a player whose 156 ERA+ was much higher than his previous best (112 in 2018). While the Phillies can expect some regression from the right-hander as he turns 31 this season, he is still set to have an ace-caliber season for the Phillies.
Unfortunately, Wheeler’s 2021 season may find itself hanging on by a thread. Or, specifically, a fingernail. The ace hurler missed some games in September last season following a strange injury where he nearly lost the fingernail on his right-hand middle finger. The issue is not uncommon to Wheeler, as he has reportedly been dealing with fingernail issues since high school due to how he grips his pitches.
If Wheeler can manage his fingernail to ensure that he has no untimely IL stints in 2021, he should be set to have another strong season on the mound for the Phillies.
After a first few rough seasons in Major League Baseball, some Phillies fans were ready to give up on the former first-round pick. It goes to show that fans are not the best judges of potential as Eflin has begun to turn into a top-caliber starting pitcher. Pitching coach Caleb Cotham believes Eflin has Cy Young potential. And, entering his age-27 season, Eflin is entering the prime years of his career to do so.
The starter began to rely more on his sinker again in 2020, and it yielded strong results as Eflin’s ERA dropped to below 4.00 for the first time in his career. He struck out batters at a rate never before seen in his career (10.7 SO/9) and continued his career trend in reducing his percentage of hard hit balls to 32.9% (league average ins 38.7%).
The only issue heading into the season is that Eflin missed his most recent scheduled start in Spring Training due to back soreness. The Phillies sound very hopeful that he will be ready come Opening Day.
While Eflin may settle in to become a decent number three pitcher, he has demonstrated that he has the potential to break out in a big way in 2021. Time will only tell, but for now, the rise of Eflin will have to wait for Easter Sunday to begin.
Photo Credit: John Jones/Icon Sportswire